Heather Wolfe on Elizabeth Cary:
The Reply of the Most Illustrious Cardinall of Perron to ….the most excellent King of Great Britaine is a polemical religious work written by the French Catholic Cardinal Jacques Davy du Perron, translated by Elizabeth Cary, viscountess Falkland, and printed in France in 1630.
Borrowed from the Beinecke Library at Yale, the copy on exhibit (not pictured) is one of at least six surviving copies that Elizabeth Cary apparently had prepared as presentation copies—including a manuscript sonnet dedication to Queen Henrietta Maria, as well as tipped-in engravings of Cardinal Perron, identical fine morocco bindings, and virtually identical corrections to the text.
According to her biography written by her daughters, most copies of The Reply were seized and burned by the archbishop of Canterbury when they arrived in England, but “some few copies came to her hands.” Copies were probably burned because the book spoke out against the king and the oath of allegiance.
Elizabeth Cary converted to Roman Catholicism in 1626, only four months after Charles I had married the French Catholic princess Henrietta Maria. She was religious, highly educated, and fluent in multiple languages, and after extensive reading and debate, decided that the Church of England’s claims to be a reformed version of the catholic church were false. Her translation was part of a much larger religious debate, conducted in multiple languages over many years.
Today Elizabeth Cary is chiefly remembered for being the first female playwright to have a play published in English, The Tragedy of Mariam, but in her own lifetime and in the years after her death, she was admired by Roman Catholics in England and abroad for this important translation.
Heather Wolfe is curator of manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library. She edited The literary career and legacy of Elizabeth Cary, 1613-1680 (2007) and Elizabeth Cary, Lady Falkland: Life and Letters (2001) and has written widely on early modern manuscript culture.
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